Advice for staff

  • When to refer

    Types of issues helped by counselling

    First, consider whether counselling can help the student. Counselling helps people make their own decisions about their life and behaviour, and manage their feelings. It is not about giving advice or information.

    Does the student need support from you, or should you refer them?

    Many University staff provide supportive or pastoral care of great value. This may be sufficient for the student. But if you are wondering if it the student needs professional help, read on...

    Ask yourself

    If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, then referral is likely to be a better option than continuing to try to help the student yourself:

    • Do you feel out of your depth with the issues the student is bringing to you?
    • Are you finding the time involved too much?
    • Do you feel you have gone as far as you can with the student?
    • Have your attempts so far not worked out?
    • Is there a conflict between supporting the student and your role in the University?
    • Is the student's problem one you personally find difficult?
    • Does the student's behaviour clash with your ethical or moral code?
    • Do you find it hard to be objective about the student's situation?
    • Does the student have many problems?
    • Are you concerned that the student may be seriously disturbed?
    • Does the student imply that you are the only one who can help? While flattering, this is often a good indicator that it is time to involve someone else. The student may be becoming over-dependant on you; and the feeling that you have sole responsibility for a student's well being can be very onerous.

    If you are unsure whether or not to refer a student, or simply need to talk through your concerns, you are very welcome to discuss the situation with one of the counsellors. You can do this without mentioning the student's name.

    How to refer

    It may be clear from the outset that you can do little to help the student, and need to refer them straight away.

    If you have been working with a student for some time, referring them on can be more complex. You need to explain why you are suggesting that they seek help elsewhere, so they do not feel that you are rejecting them. Be clear whether you are going to continue to offer support or not, and what the limitations of that support will be.

    Considering a referral

    When you are considering a referral:

    • Listen carefully to what the student tells you.
    • If relevant, ask questions to determine the best source of help. For example: if a student needs financial advice or practical help, then Financial Aid or the Brookes Union Advice Service may be the best place for them to go, whereas if they are recognising a pattern of over-spending, then counselling may help them find more positive ways of managing.
    • Ask them what they want, eg someone to listen, long-term support, practical action. Again this will guide you into referring them to the best support service.
    • Discuss with the student possible plans of action.
    • Encourage the student to decide what is best for them out of the options available.
    • If a student agrees that counselling might be helpful, make sure that they know how to register for counselling support, using the link on the Tailored Support page of the website.  It is usually best to encourage the student to register themselves, as this helps them feel motivated and in control. 

    Medical certificate equivalents and referral

    Counsellors are authorised by the University to write Counselling Notes or “medical certificate equivalents” in support of students who are experiencing personal difficulties which may affect their work. A student may include a Counselling Note when submitting a “Request following Mitigating Circumstances”. Where a counsellor has been working with a student for some time, the counsellor is in a position to judge whether it would be appropriate for them to write a Note.

    However, if students are referred to the Counselling Service with a view to obtaining a Note to include in a “Request following Mitigating Circumstances,” this presents a dilemma. The counsellor does not know the student or their academic record. Without prior contact, they are unlikely to be able to assess how the student's personal difficulties are affecting their work, or has affected it in the past. If there are possible medical circumstances, it might be better to refer a student to their doctor (for example, if the student may have depressive or anxiety issues). Of course, you can still refer the student to the Counselling Service for personal help, if this is appropriate and what the student wants.

    For further information, see: